“Let’s Dance” was Bowie’s first solo top 40 hit since 1975’s “Golden Years”; however, his duet with Queen on “Under Pressure” from 1981 charted at #29. Bowie’s 1983 treatment of “China Girl” was much more palatable to the public than his production of the same song on Iggy Pop’s album “The Idiot.” More on that below.
The difference might be attributed to a number of factors. One of these is that production duties entirely belonged to Nile Rodgers formally of the dance band Chic and a popular session guitarist and producer. While Rodgers plays guitar on this cut, the lead was played by the legendary Stevie Ray Vaughan. Vaughan’s inclusion on the “Let’s Dance” LP gave album rock credibility Bowie’s project as it generally a dance/pop album.
This is much like Eddie Van Halen’s performance on Michael Jackson’s “Beat It” – which garnered some AOR play on stations that normally wouldn’t play a Jackson cut. The only difference is that album radio more readily accepted this new style for Bowie, as he had always been an album rock artist despite popularity on the pop charts.
Iggy Pop's Original
Although Bowie didn’t stray too far from Iggy Pop’s original in structure, the arrangement was greatly improved for the remake. Released as a single in some countries, Iggy Pop’s version failed to chart anywhere. I cannot find any information if RCA released as a 45 in the US – if so, it was only a promotional release.
Bowie was the sole producer on the cut and plays keyboards, guitar, piano, saxophone, and xylophone, as well as providing backing vocals. By listening to the original, you can see why Bowie’s 1983 version was the hit.